Even if you don’t post it, I definitely recommend giving it a listen or at least looking through the transcript at the bottom of the page. It starts off on another tangent but ends up settling on a truly amazing story about how a group of Western adults in China during the time of the Japanese invasion kept their kids relatively protected from the worst of the horrors by turning the experience into an extended Girl Guides (Girl Scouts) camp as best they could.
This growing collection of stories makes me think of one we posted for our adulthood series, from a reader who grew up during the Communist dictatorship in Albania. Here’s a reposting of Valbona Bajraktari Schwab’s note:
Adulthood happened very early for me—the change, that is; that moment in time when you stop seeing the world around you as a big playground and you realize that it’s a minefield.
It was April 1985 in communist Albania. Our dictator, Enver Hoxha, had just passed away. I was 11 years old, in 5th grade, and as part of the youth leadership group of my middle school, I was asked to participate in the wake for our leader.
This meant waking up at 6am, lining up in the main boulevard of our capital city, Tirana, and walking slowly the line that snaked through the road all the way to the official building that houses the body of the dead dictator. I was there with a few teachers and a group of students ages 10-18. We knew we had to be serious and sad and cry often, but we didn’t know how long it would take and what a wake involved.
It took us a few hours before we got close to the building, but we didn’t realize that we would walk around the actual body of the dead. I remember in a blur the low lights, the big mound in the center of the room, flowers piled everywhere, but mostly the smell—sharp, chemical, rotting flowers and the faint smell of rotting flesh. I walked quickly in a daze, looking for the escape of the sun and fresh air outside.
As I am leaving a building, a reporter catches my eye and stops me. He said he wants to interview me and ask me questions about my impressions of the wake and my reaction to the death of our leader. I was confused and asked him what he wanted me to say. He said: “Well, say something about how you have met him when he was alive and how you’ll miss him now that he is gone and how he will live forever in our hearts and conclude with ‘farewell comrade Enver.’” Wanting to leave and join my friends, I quickly blurted out the lines in front of the camera and left.
When I arrived home about an hour later, I learned that my interview had been broadcast on the sole national TV channel. My grandmother said, “You spoke nicely but you didn’t look sad.”
I didn’t think much of it. I was anxious to see my mother, as I was tired and hadn’t seen her since early that morning and she was late from work. My mother came home three hours late. I ran to meet her but she stopped me before I had a chance to hug her, held me firmly by my shoulders and said, in the loudest voice I’d ever heard from her, “Never, ever go on national television again and never ever talk about political things with anyone.” She then hugged me tightly and started crying.
I learned that after my interview had been broadcasted on TV, everyone had seen it, since it was obligatory to follow the ceremony, even while at work. The representative of the communist party in my mother’s work place had seen it and had not been impressed by the fact that I didn’t cry. I didn’t show appropriate emotion for our leader’s death.
So, the natural answer was that my mother was a bad parent who hadn’t taught her daughter the appropriate emotional sentiment for the esteemed members of the party. He had called a political meeting right then and there, where the subject was my mother and her adherence to the communist principles as seen via her parenting skills. The meeting lasted three straight hours.
I thought she would be sent to jail or to a work camp and that I’d never see her again. Luckily, she was the first female surgeon of Albania and a very skilled one at that, so they spared her.
I was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. My father was also one of many Dominican men who served under the dictatorship of Trujillo. My father was a man of his time. He arrived in the early ’50s to the capital of Santo Domingo from the province of Puerto Plata. Back then he was a young man with dreams of becoming a high-ranking individual in La Guardia de Trujillo. He could barely read and write but he always had the ambitions of being near El Generalissimo. Trujillo was his idol and he intended to emulate him at all costs.
In those days, the Dominican military was a way to upper mobility for men like my father—men of humble backgrounds and little education who aspired to rise up in the ranks and become a general or part of the military mystique that was well-respected and adored by many Dominicans of his generation. My father would eventually become the chauffeur for one of Trujillo’s senior ranking officers. This was a duty that he was very proud of because it was a highly coveted job.
“Trujillo took pride in the military,” my father would say “and if you were one of his soldiers, you were respected by all,” he would conclude. “Guardias were respected and nobody would dare commit a crime against a guardia,” my mother would add.
I remember listening to my parents relate stories after stories about how good things were when Trujillo was in power. According to them, life was a lot simpler and the country enjoyed a much more prosperous economy. The crime rate was also low because anyone who was caught committing a crime would face a quick justice. “You could sleep with the door open and nobody would dare steal anything from you,” my mother always commented.
Trujillo did not bother with the small trivialities and bureaucracies of the justice system. And as in any society ruled by an oppressive dictator, Trujillo had a secret police that terrorized the population and instilled fears, creating suspicions among many.
El Generalissimo was assassinated in May 1961, the year I was born, and so by the time I was a teenager in the late ’70s, many of those who served under him were still around my neighborhood. Some of the men were still in the military. The mystique of Trujillo was very much palpable among the people.
Joaquin Balaguer, at one point Trujillo’s right-hand man, became president. Many people viewed his presidency as an extension of Trujillo’s reign but without the mass appeal and adulation from the masses. Balaguer was a hardliner, a well-educated man who despised university students and showered the poor with food baskets and toys. He was also a quiet and calculating operator who used his political shrewdness for political gain.
In short, Balaguer was a typical Latin American strongman. Unlike many men who were by Trujillo’s side and had climbed to the top by brute force, Balaguer did it by being his scribe and the architect of his policies. Balaguer did not take care of the military but rather used it as a tool of government. This and the fact that he was a lifelong bachelor and wifeless created rumors about his manhood—a dangerous thing for a leader in a country that values machismo. Yet, Balaguer was able to maintain a cozy relationship with the military.
And so in the late ’70s, right around the time of my adolescence, many people felt that the good times had already gone by. The Era of Trujillo had maintained a stable economy and even paid off the national debts. The ’70s, during which Balaguer was mostly president, were mired by oppression, political discourse, student protests, workers’ strikes, killings and disappearance of anyone labeled by the government radical or communist. There was also a stagnant economy and a public distrust of the uncontrollable private sector that raised the price of basic necessities at their own leisure. More than 15 years after the demise of Trujillo’s regime, the country was still trying to find itself.
Many had forgotten Trujillo’s crimes and his reign of brutality against the country. There was a sense of nostalgia, yet collective amnesia. They longed for the stability, prosperity, and a sense of national security that was common in the ’50s, even if it was at a price: the nonexistence of civil liberties and prevalent human rights violations. Trujillo’s regime had a paternal appeal for many Dominicans and it’s not a surprise that one of his many titles was Benefactor of the Nation.
By the late ’70s, my father had long left the military and emigrated to New York. “The military was never the same after Trujillo was killed,” my father lamented.
I was mostly raised by my mother, while my father left the country to look for a better future in Nueva York. Many times, I found myself going through my father’s old belongings. I admired his collections of military metals, photos, and a magazine of Trujillo that he so zealously kept private.
There is a photo of my father wearing the Dominican Air Force uniform with a ribbon on his chest and a picturesque background of palm trees and the ocean [seen in the collage above]. His dream was finally realized in this photo. There is another picture of my father with my mother and my grandmother [seen above]. They all look proud. My mother, next to her husband, who could count on him to provide for the family as long as he was in the military. My grandmother, who could also count on my father to help her economically and send her money to the countryside.
It was probably around the time these pictures were taken that my father was carrying out El Jefe’s crimes.
He was a small yet necessary piece of Trujillo’s gargantuan crushing and killing machine. Sometimes, I would get bits and pieces of his stories when he did not realize that I was around. Among friends, after a few cervezas and once the stupor of alcohol had dismantled away all his inhibitions, he would confess about being on patrol roaming the city for those deemed undesirables by the regime, “rompiendo cabezas,” or fracturing skulls, as he used to put it and “teaching them a lesson.”
There were many pictures of Trujillo. In those times, the ’50s, families were required to maintain pictures of El Jefe as a sign of loyalty toward the dictatorship. There was also that glossy magazine, probably commissioned by Trujillo. It had a biography of him and described his military triumphs and training. Trujillo had been trained and molded by the U.S. Marine Corps during the American occupation in 1918. The magazine also depicted the different types of armaments of the Dominican Armed Forces, planes, and troop marching. There were also ribbon-cutting ceremonies illustrating new facilities built by the dictator.
I grew up among all of these things. My parents longed for a past that would never return. Although my father had lived in the U.S. for more than five years by the late ’70s, he was reluctant to bring us here. He was hoping that his Santo Domingo would get better someday and he would be able to return. As such, he delayed his decision to bring us to the United States. I finally arrived in the winter of 1980 along with my mother and sister. My sister and I enrolled in community college and began English classes.
One day, my father sat me down and told me that I must either join the military or get a college education. He added that if I did not want to end up like him working in a factory, I had to learn English quickly. And so it was that in the fall of 1982, with a basic knowledge of the English language, I joined the U.S. Marines Corps. My father could not have been more proud of me when I return from basic training wearing the dress blue uniform. He carried a picture of me in that uniform in his wallet and he would show it to everyone.
I left the Marine Corps after three years to complete my bachelor’s degree. In 1990, after obtaining my degree, I started my civil service career working for the state of New Jersey. After that, I was my father’s favorite son. He always respected me for taking his advice. He did not have the same feelings for my sister because she never listened to him.
I eventually returned to military service in 1995. I joined the Army Reserve because I somehow missed the comradeship of the service and felt a sense of duty.
My father would go back to the Dominican Republic and visit his old friends from his military days. After all those years, he still kept in contact with them. My father would refer to this group of friends as “La Guardia Vieja,” or the old guard. Even after many years, he trusted his old military friends more than he trusted his brothers and other relatives.
My father passed away in 2004. When my sister was cleaning the house and giving away his belongings, I managed to keep the magazine and his old photos. I could not find his medals.
A few years later, one of his old friends from the military, who also happened to be my godfather, also passed away. Eventually, they all died off. In May of this year, Antonio Imbert Barrerra, one of the main plotters of Trujillo’s assassination, passed away at the age of 96.
The sense of military duty, derived from my father, has stayed in my family. In the spring of 2009, I was called to active duty and deployed to Iraq. One day during my deployment I called my wife, and she sounded very upset and frustrated. She told me that our youngest son, who had been born in New Jersey 19 years before, decided to join the U.S. Army and did not bother to tell anyone.
“If anything happens to him, you are responsible. You guys with all this military thing,” my wife exclaimed.
She knew one or two things because her father had also served in the Dominican military during the Era of Trujillo. She was also raised a few blocks away from the Dominican Air Force Academy. (The history of its building and construction had also been featured in the magazine I kept of Trujillo.)
In the winter of 2010, my oldest son, born in New Jersey in 1987, also joined the U.S. Army, and a few years later he served in Afghanistan.
Thank you for sharing your family’s story with our readers and me. I recognized your ambivalence over your father’s role, and I also saw you redeem him partially through your own choices and the example you set for your sons. That is as much as we can do as individuals: rise and continue to rise.
I also want to thank you for illustrating so candidly the complexities of Dominican masculinity, which is the most potent—perhaps toxic?—element of our culture to this day. As a woman, I have experienced it second-hand, as expectations for me are far different, but I have long recognized the limiting ways men are expected to define themselves in our country. Your father’s “dreams of becoming a high-ranking individual” attest to the lure of power and authority that compels many men—Trujillo being the ultimate example—to bend others’ lives to their will. That dynamic is still steeped in the structures of families, churches, schools, and other significant institutions that collectively define Dominican identity. In the end, it is a trap for the men, and an extended sentence for the rest of us.
I’m sure you and I could speak at length about your experiences, but I’ll draw this note to a close by thanking you again for your candor and honesty, both of which are so necessary to reach true understanding and attain meaningful change.
Update from another reader with a similar experience as Luis’s and mine:
My parents were both born and raised in the Dominican Republic and experienced first-hand the nefarious dictatorship of Trujillo. That trauma informed my upbringing as a Dominican American in New York City. As a result I have written a book Dividing Hispaniola: the Dominican Republic’s Border Campaign against Haiti, 1930-1961 and wrote and perform a one-man show called Eddie’s Perejil (which you can learn more about on my website). Coming to grips with the legacy of dictatorships and mass murder is critically important, particularly in the diaspora. I applaud your important contributions to our understanding of post-trauma, memory, and identity.
The state’s coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are at an all-time high.
In New York, the decisive moment came in March. In Arizona and other Sun Belt states, it struck as the spring turned to summer. In every state that has so far seen a large spike of COVID-19 cases, there has been a moment when the early signs of an uptick are detectable—but a monstrous outbreak is not yet assured. Can a state realize what’s happening, and stop a surge in time? Wisconsin is about to find out.
In the past week, Wisconsin has crashed through its own coronavirus records, reporting more cases and more COVID-19 hospitalizations than it has at any time since the pandemic began, according to the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic. It now ranks among the top states in new cases per capita, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it is reporting more new cases, in absolute terms, than all states but California, Texas, and Florida.
If the vote is close, Donald Trump could easily throw the election into chaos and subvert the result. Who will stop him?
Illustrations by Guillem Casasús / Renderings by Borja Alegre
There is a cohort of close observers of our presidential elections, scholars and lawyers and political strategists, who find themselves in the uneasy position of intelligence analysts in the months before 9/11. As November 3 approaches, their screens are blinking red, alight with warnings that the political system does not know how to absorb. They see the obvious signs that we all see, but they also know subtle things that most of us do not. Something dangerous has hove into view, and the nation is lurching into its path.
The danger is not merely that the 2020 election will bring discord. Those who fear something worse take turbulence and controversy for granted. The coronavirus pandemic, a reckless incumbent, a deluge of mail-in ballots, a vandalized Postal Service, a resurgent effort to suppress votes, and a trainload of lawsuits are bearing down on the nation’s creaky electoral machinery.
The fires, smoke, and heat are no longer a fluke, but our future. The time has come for us to flee.
Portland, Oregon, has its share of gloomy days, so waking up to darkness wasn’t that strange. When I looked outside, however, the sky wasn’t overcast. It was filled with smoke the color of pumpkin spice, the result of nearby fires. A soupy miasma. The most noxious air in the world. I’d had enough. I told my husband, “We need to move.”
Having grown up in California’s Sonoma County, I’ve been spoiled by natural beauty and perfect weather. When I was 30, I briefly lived in New York, but after only six months, I started to miss horizon lines defined by mountains and sunsets, the sweet fragrance of dry vegetation in late summer, silvery oak trees and massive redwoods. I bought a one-way ticket back home. I remember the way the bay looked as my plane descended into San Francisco: glittery, golden, and serene—like a Maxfield Parrish painting I had on my wall in high school. I felt protected on this side of the country, grounded within the boundaries of water and range. I never thought I’d leave the West Coast again.
If the judge’s faith has put limits on her talent and ambition, there are few signs of it.
The first I heard of Amy Coney Barrett was when her name was floated as a possible nominee for the seat left vacant on the Supreme Court when Anthony Kennedy retired. I thought she was an interesting person, although not for any reasons of policy or politics: She is a mother of seven children, several of them very young; a Catholic; a deeply accomplished and distinguished member of the judiciary. I could not prevent myself from noticing, too, how beautiful she is, and wondering how the hell she balances raising seven children with her huge career. But there was little time to ponder these questions in my heart, as Mary did the annunciation, because Brett Kavanaugh was nominated instead of her, and things got so weird so fast that she slipped my mind.
Amy Coney Barrett’s ascension is a triumph for the conservative legal movement.
Updated on September 26, 2020 at 5:21 a.m. ET.
When President Donald Trump announced today that Amy Coney Barrett is his nominee for the Supreme Court, he was effectively declaring victory. In 2016, Trump offered a horse trade to American conservatives: In exchange for their votes, he promised to appoint judges who would champion their interests. This nomination is yet another chance for Trump to remind his supporters that their bet paid off, conveniently timed just a few weeks before Election Day.
While Trump may see this nomination as a boon to his reelection campaign, the true victors are the leaders of the conservative legal movement, who built the sophisticated machine in Washington that made this moment possible. With most of America’s institutions, from Congress to the executive branch, locked into a state of dysfunction and partisan bitterness, the Court has become the ultimate venue for the parties to fight out controversies and entrench their power. Barrett’s nomination is the culmination of a decades-long strategy to advance judges steeped in a conservative judicial philosophy that tends to favor limited government regulation of businesses, produce skepticism of abortion rights, and promote an expansive view of religious liberty. If Barrett is confirmed, a new 6-to-3 conservative supermajority will be poised to determine Americans’ rights for a generation.
Joe Biden should simply name what is true and what most Americans intuit about the president: He is a terribly broken man.
“I’m used to bullies.”
That’s a line Joe Biden has used several times during his run against Donald Trump, and he said it again recently in talking about the first presidential debate.
“I hope I don’t take the bait, because he’s going to say awful things about me, my family, et cetera,” Biden said at a virtual fundraiser. “I hope I don’t get baited into getting into a brawl with this guy, because that’s the only place he’s comfortable.” Biden expects to be able to keep his cool because, he said, “I’m used to dealing with bullies.”
The challenge for Biden isn’t simply that he’ll be facing a bully on the debate stage in Cleveland on Tuesday; it’s that he’ll be facing a man who is shameless and without conscience, a shatterer of norms and boundaries, a liar of epic proportions, a conspiracy-monger who inhabits an alternate reality. President Donald Trump operates outside any normal parameters.
Only in America does so much power rest in the hands of elderly judges.
When the Framers of the Constitution debated the document’s careful system of checks and balances, they confronted a question that would only become more important over time: Should there be a mandatory retirement age for federal judges?
Alexander Hamilton argued against one. Writing in The Federalist Papers, he dismissed “the imaginary danger of a superannuated bench.” Hamilton won out, and the Constitution placed no term limits on the service of federal judges, including the men and (much later) women who would make up the Supreme Court.
More than two centuries later, the United States stands alone in its handling of lifetime appointments to its highest court, and the drawbacks of a “superannuated bench” have become ever more clear. Last Friday, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the third member of the Supreme Court to die in office in the past 15 years. Her death injects a partisan fight over the judiciary into the tempest of a presidential election, and it has brought about a nightmare scenario for Democrats, who have long feared the possibility that a conservative would replace her progressive vote on the Supreme Court and shift the nation’s jurisprudence dramatically to the right. But it also serves as a reminder that only in the U.S. does the balance of so much national power hang on the ability of an 87-year-old jurist to hold out for a few more months against the ravages of disease and the inevitability of life’s natural course.
The typical path to parenthood didn’t work for David Jay, a founder of the asexual movement. So he designed his own household—and is trying to show others what is possible.
Updated at 12:40 p.m. ET on September 24, 2020
David Jay is the oldest of 12 cousins on one side of his family and the third-oldest of 24 cousins on the other. As a kid, family to Jay meant having a lot of people around, a feeling of community, and crucially, a sense of permanence, that these people would always be in his life. Later, as an adult living in collective housing, he could access the feeling of family with those around him, but the permanence was gone. His roommates started finding romantic partners, having children, and dispersing. Jay had always wanted his own family with kids—and had known, for almost as long, that he wouldn’t be able to build one the usual way.
Jay is the founder of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network and one of the most prominent people in the asexual movement. (Asexual people, or aces, don’t experience sexual attraction, though many do have sex and form romantic relationships.) After starting AVEN as a freshman at Wesleyan University in 2001, Jay spent years explaining asexuality to the public, speaking at events and talking to the press. As he grew older, the questions on his mind moved beyond identity and attraction to issues of parenting and family life.
I was born in London, and I know that it isn’t the welcoming place many seem to think it is.
During this uncertain and unstable year, I’ve learned not to take Hong Kong’s freedom for granted. Prodemocracy protests consumed the city for months starting in early 2019, but the political climate changed abruptly in the spring, when Beijing passed a wide-ranging security law that many see as a crackdown on dissent. At the end of June, a few hours before the law went into effect, I walked outside to catch the last glimpses of protest around my neighborhood in Hong Kong. A local barber was removing a gas mask and goggles from the mannequin in his window; I noticed that a coffee shop had already taken down all of its protest figurines and posters. The citywide self-censorship was swift.
The next day, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that, in response to Beijing’s actions, the United Kingdom would alter its existing visa policies, essentially paving the way to naturalized British citizenship for 3 million Hong Kongers. Some of my friends and acquaintances felt a great sense of relief—the U.K. could be their haven, a place to restart. Rattled by arrests of demonstrators, journalists, and academics in Hong Kong, several people have already left for the U.K.; the prodemocracy activist Nathan Law announced in early July that he had fled Hong Kong and would continue his activism in London.
Colleges are torn apart when faculty are punished and publicly vilified for accidentally giving offense.
When the news began circulating on social media, many couldn’t believe it was true––that the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California would remove a longtime professor from a class because a Mandarin word he used correctly in a lesson sounded sort of like a racial slur. One skeptic warned that the “ridiculous sounding story” seemed like a “fabricated Reddit meme.” Another was suspicious that it so neatly fit a narrative of “wacky campus leftists repressing free speech.”
Then angry faculty and alumni began confirming the story: During a Zoom class on August 20, Greg Patton, a 53-year-old professor, told students that in business settings they should avoid filler words such as um or er. Then he gave another example of a filler word that—I learned—he added to his lecture perhaps five years ago to be more inclusive of international students. “Like in China, the common word is that—that, that, that, that,” he explained. “So in China it might be nèi ge—nèi ge, nèi ge, nèi ge. So there’s different words that you’ll hear in different countries.”